Top 8 Flowers of Hawaii and Their Meanings

Some of the most captivating flowers in the world can be found in Hawaii, but did you know they also hold a lot of symbolism?

Below you’ll find a list of some of the most interesting flowers, not only for their beauty, but also for what they represent.

Hibiscus

It will probably come as no surprise that hibiscus flowers symbolize beauty. In Hawaii, these flowers can be found pretty much everywhere. They have also inspired countless artworks across the world.

They are traditionally used by women to convey their relationship status by wearing the blooms behind their ears. 

If they wear a hibiscus flower behind the right ear, she is single. If she wears the flower behind her left ear, she’s unavailable.

The flower’s most common color is yellow, but it can also come in reds, blues, oranges, and whites. While a single flower will only last a day, the shrub produces more flowers each day.

The yellow hibiscus, or hibiscus brackenridgei is the Hawaii state flower. 

Orchids

While orchids grow throughout the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island is often called the “Orchid Isle”, as there are so many orchid types which grow on it. Orchids are also one of the biggest plant families. 

Orchids embody luxury, and a rare beauty which is delicate and finite. They are also given as gifts for a 14th wedding anniversary.

Naupaka Flowers

Scaevola taccada or the Naupaka flower has an intriguing local legend attached to it. 

Naupaka was the name of a princess, who loved a commoner. She knew their love put them both in an impossible position, so she asked for guidance.

She and her lover had to travel for days to reach a temple. All the efforts were for nothing, as when they arrived, there was no magic advice or words they could act upon to make things better. 

They couldn’t be together.

Naupaka pulled the white flower from her hair and tore it into two pieces, giving part of it to her other half. She stayed in the mountains, and he returned to the beach as she asked.

Today, you’ll find two types of Naupaka, one of which grows along the beach, and one only grows in the mountains.  

Plumerias

While not officially native to Hawaii, plumerias are widespread across the country. The symbolism Hawaiians hold for these flowers is largely positive, including love, new beginnings, rebirth, and spring. 

Once these lovely blooms were only worn by royalty, but now they are used in leis and nearly everyone wears them to appreciate their beauty.

The blooms themselves come in pink and yellow and carry a heady, sweet fragrance. 

In Buddhism, these flowers represent immortality, and in Laos, you can find them outside every Buddhist temple. They are linked to temples in Hindu and Jain cultures as well. 

In Bengali culture, white plumerias are used in funerals, so they are associated with death. 

In eastern India and Bangladesh, plumeria is considered a variety of the champak flower, which lives in the highest realm of heaven,  in the home of Sree Krishna. 

In both Maya and Aztec periods, there is evidence of plumerias being associated with gods, representing life and fertility. 

There are also some reliefs in temples in East Java and Central Java which depict plumeria trees, long before Europeans arrived. The Borobudur Mahayana Buddhist temple is hard to date, but it’s estimated it was built around 800 AD. 

This makes it difficult – and more interesting – to determine exactly when plumeria arrived in South East Asia, and how. Both the tree and the flowers are sacred. 

You may also know these flowers by their common name, frangipani, which originates in 16th century Italy. 

A marquis claimed he invented a perfume that smelled of the plumeria, but the synthetic scent doesn’t resemble the modern-day plumerias, so it’s a little more difficult to tell if he achieved what he claimed.

In some parts of Southeast Asia, these plants are considered to be bad luck, and they are left alone, as folklore says that they attract demons and ghosts, which shelter under the plant. 

The genus is named after the French botanist and Catholic monk Charles Plumier, who spent his life documenting plant and animal species native to the New World.

Ohia Lehua Flowers

Metrosideros polymorpha or the Ohia lehua flowers are symbolic of Pele, who is the goddess of volcanoes. They are one of the first flowers to grow after a volcanic eruption.

Legend tells that Pele was in love with a man called Ohia. Ohia, unfortunately, was in love with a woman called Lehua.

Stung by the rejection, Pele turned Ohia into a tree, and Lehua into its blossom. 

There is a belief that if you pick a lehua flower, rain will fall, and it is the tears of the separated lovers.

Red Tower Ginger

Like most red flowers, the red tower ginger symbolizes deep devotion and love. They also represent diversity and tolerance.

These plants can grow to lofty heights of nearly eight feet, with flower spikes appearing at the top of the plant. 

Pikake Flowers

Sambac jasmine, or pikake flowers, are worn by brides and hula dancers. They are also given as gifts to honored guests. These flowers have a heady fragrance.

The flowers were named by Princess Kaiulani, and the name means “peacock”.

Bird of Paradise Flowers

Bird of paradise plants are unforgettable, which, while they aren’t native to Hawaii, they are popular within the culture. 

They symbolize liberty and the joy that comes with it, and are symbolic of the end of apartheid in South Africa, which is where the plant hails from. 

They are also a traditional gift for a ninth wedding anniversary. 

Conclusion

While most of the flowers found in Hawaii are fascinating and beautiful in their own right, the ones that carry stories and history through the ages are truly special plants. 

These plants can help ensure the survival of culture and tradition, as mysterious common names for plants often hint at hidden knowledge or stories just waiting to be experienced by someone new.

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